“Some of you might be wondering, ‘Didn’t we go through this?’ Yes, we did, but we asked to have it done legally,” District 6 Alder Marsha Rummel says, acknowledging what Madison residents may be thinking Wednesday, as the City’s Common Council [once again] voted 16 to 2 on Tuesday to remove a Confederate grave marker located in Forest Hill Cemetery.
The Common Council originally voted in April to remove the monument, but Madison’s Landmarks Commission denied the subsequent application for a certificate of appropriateness in August.
The Commission argued that removing the marker would not follow the city’s historic preservation ordinance, which in turn follows the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.
Landmarks Commission chair Stu Levitan asserts the Commission was legally bound to follow these federal standards, but hopes the Council finds a mistake in the interpretation.
“The Landmarks Commission got it right. We interpreted the Secretary’s standards as they are written. We did our job,” Levitan asserts. “Having said that, there are white supremacists in our federal government and Klansmen in our streets. Things that might have been acceptable before Charlottesville are no longer OK. Rebel soldiers who fought to preserve slavery should have their graves respected, but they are not entitled to a large marble in Madison’s municipal cemetery. I don’t know what legal basis you have for reversing the Commission, but I hope you can find one and order the monument’s removal.”
In August, a staff report by Amy Scanlon found that removing the marker would violate five of the federal department’s nine standards.
City Attorney Michael May argues, however, that the ordinance references federal standards under a section pertaining to new construction or exterior alteration, not demolition or removal.
This potential “misreading” could serve as the legal basis for overruling the Commission, but Levitan believes the Council would still have to deal with the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) and potential federal issues as indigenous burial mounds exist within the Forest Hill Cemetery.
“I think part of your question is, does the Secretary of the Interior, or somebody on behalf of the federal government have jurisdiction to seek to prevent violation of that standard. I don’t know the answer to that,” Levitan says in response to a question from District 9 Alder Paul Skidmore.
In a telephone call with WORT’s Shaun Soman, Wisconsin Historical Society Historic Preservation member Chip Brown says that the SHPO could play a limited role in shaping what happens next, but that the process might not require their involvement.
Reaffirming an element of the Council’s initial proposal, 14th District Alder and Common Council Vice President Sheri Charter called for the monument to be offered to either the State Historical Society or the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.